I write this in a state of overwhelming terror. Terror that – despite its all-pervading nature – I have managed to utterly repress beneath a belief that I’m bimbling along cheerfully.
An acquaintance introduced me to the Cube test; a narrative personality test that supposedly reveals hidden traits and perspectives by interpreting the items visualised in response to a series of verbal cues.
The test starts with the subject visualising that they are standing in a desert landscape, then visualising the eponymous cube, followed by a series of other things. One of which – a rainstorm – is the image relevant for this story.
I visualised the rain descending around me, which – according to the interpretation screed – indicates a sense of my fears overwhelming me. This came as somewhat of a shock to me, as I’m not feeling overwhelmed, by fear or otherwise.
The error of course stemmed from one of the test’s axioms: it assumed that a desert is a neutral location, free from structures, plants, and other details that might influence the visualisation of the test images. Whereas, I strongly dislike the heat; my instinctive image of a desert is an arid and uncomfortable landscape. So, I welcomed the rain as something to dampen the heat, to make the landscape more comfortable.
Of course, the designer of the test would no doubt point out that what I received was a stripped down, pop-science version; that the original test has more detailed instructions and guides for the narrator so that the images visualised are closer to those intended, and so that the interpretation accounts for more of the context the subject brings. However, that isn’t my point.
Whether or not the test is valid (when administered properly or at all) for determining personality from symbols, it reveals that we can easily see a symbol as having a common meaning to everyone; when often the meaning is more from individual context than common traits.
Or to put it another way, even Freud believed that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.